19.11.2004    Avanto-Art Festival @ Kiasma Theater, Helsinki, Finland.

line-up: Dave Phillips, Tom Smith, Daniel Löwenbrück, Reto Mäder

041119 helsinki


(OHNE live at Avanto Festival Helsinki 2004) Ohne, the rarely-seen Euro-American confusion collective featuring Tom Smith (of To Live and Shave in L.A., Peach of Immortality and prepubescent Pussy Galore ‘fame’), launched the musical portion of Avanto. The trio - reduced from a quartet due to Reto Maeder’s health-related woes - was preceded by a selection of Kurt Kren’s and Ernst Schmidt Jr.’s 1960s Viennese Actionist films, in which hilarious, often grotesquely sexual barrages of naked torsos doused in paint, food, carnage and gore race across the screen. The pairing was impeccable; Ohne’s needling collage of performance art and treated amplifications of the human body loosely fashions itself as a punk-schooled sonic parallel to Actionism’s ocular overload. When the vignettes ended, an insistent loop of a ticking stopwatch and galloping hooves ricocheted around the darkened Kiasma theater. Mocking spotlights shined down on Ohne’s vacant microphones. Ten minutes later… absolutely nothing happened. The stage remained empty; the polite customers grew palpably restless. Gradually, a few anonymous rabble-rousers began grousing, booing, or screaming ‘bullshit!’ from the aisles. Someone coughed. Another guy clicked his tongue. A can sailed through the air. ‘Do something! Come on!,’ the voices shouted in flawless English. Suddenly, it became obvious that the members of Ohne were responsible for the yelling. They had blended in among the audience to heckle their own production. The instigators urged the onlookers to hurl forth insults, but only a handful of detractors actually joined in. And nobody accepted the invitation to get onstage. A few malcontents headed for the exit. That reaction says a lot about the stereotypically reserved and stoic Finnish character; in the U.S., mass jeering would have ensued. But in Helsinki, the crowd suppressed its mild annoyance and either patiently waited for the payoff or silently fled. Who knows what might have transpired had the patrons bum-rushed the show and taken matters into their own hands? Had Ohne walked off without touching its laptops, the gig would have been an amazing triumph: a total refutation of the very notion of performing. But maybe the ensuing fracas was just a deliberate anticlimax? The set began in earnest when Daniel Loewenbrueck, who had recorded the heckling introduction, played back his cassette of the episode while strolling among the rows of seats. From the stage, a bored-looking Dave Phillips triggered a plethora of strident samples. Smith attached contact mikes to his churning stomach and initiated an array of gargles, chokes and gags. Eventually, he would ham it up with his trademark lounge-lizard histrionics. The three men enacted a series of rituals - aiming the house lights directly at people’s eyes, sprinkling powder everywhere, rinsing their soiled hands in a bucket, hammering nails into cloths on the floor and doing pushups until exhaustion set in - served with a dense, feverish squall of deflating balloons, sawing cellos, artillery and thunder. The spectacle always engrossed the eyes, yet occasionally tired the ears. Smith, Phillips and Loewenbrueck admirably capture the essence of both punk and Actionism - to incite, vex and destroy - but it was a minor disappointment that such a hostile crew even deigned to play. It would have been far more infuriating (i.e. effective) to let the tension build without any resolution whatsoever. Given their reputations as infamous troublemakers, they’d probably agree with that opinion.

(Jordan N. Mamone, Dusted Magazine)